1. Sign up as a site member or log in if you are an existing member

2. Choose a monthly or annual subscription here

Interview: Brian Canham

The Pseudo Echo frontman on "new" album 1990: The Lost Album Demos and the band's journey from Countdown to the top of the chart.

Pseudo Echo.png

Interview from June 2021

They were at the forefront of the Australian synthpop scene in the '80s, with a string of hit singles taken from their first two very successful albums and, with singer Brian Canham still at the helm, Pseudo Echo remain a live drawcard and studio project today. But there was always an untold story about the band's shift in style and image with 1988's Race album and their subsequent split. With the recent release of 1990: The Lost Album Demos, which consists of songs written by Brian for an intended fourth album or a potential solo project that were missing for decades, now is the perfect time to tell that story...

How does it feel to have a new old album out?

It’s a unique sensation, that’s for sure. It’s the first time it’s happened to me. To be reconnected with something you thought was lost for 30 years is pretty momentous.

Compared to Pseudo Echo’s more recent albums, like last year's After Party, 1990: The Lost Album Demos is very much an album from 1990. Did you consider updating it?

When I did find it, as much as Raquel, my manager and my wife, was jumping up and down with joy, saying, “That’s great, you’ve got to release it!”, I said, “It’ll take me forever to record it [again]. There’s a lot of work to do here.” You’ve got to understand, we only found a master tape, which is a two-track that’s mixed down. You can’t get into the parts and rearrange them. And I didn’t even consider releasing it as it is. I thought, “Well, at least I’ve found a blueprint to an album.” But Raquel had a valid point. She was saying to me, “It’s a time capsule. It’s representative of the time — the sounds, your performances… everything is from that period.” The more I thought about re-recording it, I thought, “It’s not so special then. It’s just old songs.” And everyone has old songs kicking around, so the fact that it is intact as is… It’s hard because as artists we’re quite vulnerable to expose our demos. There might be bits where you sing a bit off-key or played a chord a bit average or the drums mightn’t be as tight as you would like, but that said, our demos back in the day were always of a very high standard. This is no exception — this is highly produced as far as a demo goes.

Going back to the start of the Pseudo Echo story, what were the challenges being a synth-based band in the early '80s in Australia?

The biggest challenge was to your personal safety, I think. [Laughs] It was a world of pub rock, you know, jeans, t-shirts and tough rock ’n’ roll. So for us to take to the stage in full make-up and padded shoulders and pointed suede boots, and with no drummer, just an electronic rhythm machine, no conventional bass player as such, no real anything that was traditional... So that was the biggest challenge. It was very confronting to support bands like Aussie Crawl or Broderick Smith — all great acts, but it was a hard gig to marry Pseudo Echo to any band that we supported at the time. It took us a while to find who we could play with and open up for. Once we found our audience, it was all good.

You famously went on Countdown unsigned. Were you crapping yourselves?

It was beyond nerves. We were comatose to it a bit. We were kind of almost blasé because things were starting to happen. With Pseudo Echo, it was just like a fireball. I was in so many bands growing up, and they were all crap. You’re finding your way and learning as you go, but with Pseudo Echo, it just came together and didn’t stop. One thing led to another to another. We were going from those supports where we were inappropriately matched to then saying, “Hey, there’s this band The Numbers or MEO 245 or Mi-Sex, and this is our audience.” Then we were asked to open for Siouxsie And The Banshees. So it just kept jumping, and when it finally got to the stage of Countdown, it felt like it was sort of a natural progression. But we were still nervous.

How did you feel about the single version of "Listening" compared to your original?

There were a few versions of “Listening” along the way. When we used to perform it live initially, the verses of the song were in half-time, similar to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. It was much darker and only came alive on the chorus, which worked well — it was a real contrast. But there was something about it that was not quite getting there. So we did the version on Countdown where we kept it all uptempo. Then, when we signed with EMI, we had Peter Dawkins, who was one of the A&R managers at the time, [produce it]. He’d had a hand in producing a few big songs, like “April Sun In Cuba” for Dragon. Pete was an older guy. We thought he was a bit square, but he was still very knowledgeable and he came up with some great ideas of how he wanted to arrange the song. “That melody you’ve got in the middle, that would be great as an opening.” He really approached it like building blocks, so we took that onboard and I never looked back really. That was the right version and when it became a hit, you can’t argue with that.

Follow-up single "A Beat For You" was another hit. Did it all feel a bit unreal?

It was just a whirlwind. I was all of about 22-23 years old. It just felt like everything we were doing was paying off. It was working how we expected it to work, so we were thrilled. And we starting to get some healthy competition from our peers — Kids In The Kitchen, Real Life. These bands were hot on our tails or we were hot on their tails, and that was a healthy camaraderie and competition.

How did you react when subsequent singles "Dancing Until Midnight" and "Stranger In Me" weren’t as successful?

Yeah, it was a little bit like, “Hang on a minute. Where are our hits?” It was the first time something didn’t go as planned. And maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it grounded us a bit. There were many reasons also that I can see. I realise that when you had an album out, who buys the third single? You buy the album. So our album went gold and we were delighted by that, so we were realistic about the third and fourth singles.

Pseudo Echo on Chart Beats

Where did the idea to record "Funky Town" come from?

Well, the idea came from myself. It was a song I heard Molly [Meldrum] play for the first time when I was about 18. I used to go to a club he’d DJ at. I used to go there every week just to hear what he’d play and watch how the audience would respond. And I could see that was one of the songs that was very impactful. Even though it was a simple, basic little ditty, I thought, “This song’s got something.” It had lots of great commercial elements. It was some five years later and I was getting nostalgic with a mate of mine who’s a DJ and he played “Funkytown” to me and said, “Remember this song?” and it struck such a chord with me. I think the next soundcheck, I just started jamming and said, “Hey guys, remember this song?” and Pierre {Pierre, keyboardist and bass guitarist] started playing the bass. We put it into the set one night as an encore, and it just went over unbelievably. The crowd went nuts. We were really surprised because we just did it as an indulgence. Then it became part of the set — it was the encore song.

More interviews